French, Tana. Broken Harbor.

NY: Viking, 2012.

This is the fourth volume in French’s “Dublin Murder Squad” series and I’ve been hooked since the first one. She has an interesting method, too: As you start each book, you discover that the protagonist in the new one was a minor or supporting character in the previous one. The person you thought was just a spear-carrier for the narrator to interact with turns out to be far more complex and very interesting in his (or her) own right.

Detective Sergeant Michael “Scorcher” Kennedy, who had a professional run-in with Inspector Frank Mackey in the last book that caused some damage to his career, nevertheless has the highest solve rate on the Murder Squad year after year, and he’ll tell you up front that it’s not because he’s more brilliant than anyone else. It’s because he maintains complete control — both of himself and of the case he’s working on — and because he never quits. But this new case, which should have gone like clockwork, which should have been “the dream case,” is nearly the end of him.

There’s a fishing village with a beach up the coast called Broken Harbor where Kennedy himself used to go with his family as a kid for two weeks every year, and which provided some of his best memories — and some of his very worst. Now the place has been renamed “Brianstown” by a gang of shady, slovenly property developers and the community they began building has been abandoned as the Irish recession took hold. The few families who bought rather crappy new homes there are now stuck with them. And one of those families has been almost wiped out one night — young father and two small children dead, young mother in critical condition. There’s no sign of who the attacker might have been, and that’s Kennedy’s job. So off he goes with his partner in tow: Richie Curran, who has been on the squad all of two weeks. (Kennedy does a lot of training and mentoring of new detectives and he’s good at it, though he would really prefer to have a full-time, long-term partner like everyone else.) The scene of the multiple murders is a bloody mess, the forensics team in their white suits are delighted (professionally speaking), and there’s the wife’s sister having a screaming breakdown in a patrol car. And as he looks over the bodies, Kennedy is already beginning to get a good idea of what must have happened during the night.

Boy, is he wrong.

French weaves a complex, mesmerizing plot with two disparate detectives, a stalker, and the histories of the “golden couple” (as Kennedy begins to think of them) as the warp, and the nuts and bolts of the procedural investigation as the woof. The narration is first-person this time, so you’ll learn things only as the investigators do. And not to forget Kennedy’s younger sister, who is – intermittently — as mad as a hatter. He has always looked after her, but it’s a serious trial to him. And now she’s interfering in his case, and in his developing professional relationship with Richie. A first-rate detective story with an unpredictable ending. And I’m wondering who among the cast of characters will be the focal point in the author’s next book.

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